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JAPANESE TV ADS: High School Drinks

Time for another batch of television commercials from Japan. The weather must be warming up over there, because there seems to be a preponderance of ads for refreshing drinks . . . particularly those enjoyed by high school students. We’ve got:

Calpis Water
Pocari Sweat
Fanta
Berry Match
C.C. Sports

Just listing them all makes me thirsty!

SUMO: Natsu Basho Banzuke

After a long six weeks with nearly no news from the world of sumo, the Nihon Sumo Kyokai [Japan Sumo Association] has released the banzuke [ranking sheet] for the Natsu Basho [Summer Grand Tournament] that will be held in Tokyo from May 8–22. It should surprise no one that this news makes me very happy.

But what does the banzuke reveal? Who got big promotions? Who’s back from Juryo? Let’s have a look, shall we?

YOKOZUNA & OZEKI
After winning the Haru Basho, yokozuna Hakuho finds himself back at the very top of the heap, with Kakuryu getting the next spot and Harumafuji being lowest among the yokozuna. None of this is a surprise based on their records in Osaka.

The four ozeki also line up as could be predicted, but the order is interesting just because of the tale it tells. Kisenosato is first with Goeido second (a position he’s NEVER had). Kotoshogiku, who won the yusho [tournament championship] in January, is third and Terunofuji, who most people consider the most likely among the group to eventually get promoted to yokozuna, is at the bottom. As you may recall, Goeido had the best tournament of his ozeki career last time and actually looked like he deserved his rank (something he hadn’t done since sometime in 2014), and Terunofuji was severely hurt in the March basho and barely eked out a kachikoshi [majority of wins]. Meanwhile both Kisenosato and Kotoshogiku looked strong until the final five days of the last tournament, when the wheels came off for them both. It’s anybody’s guess how any of them will perform in the upcoming tournament.

SEKIWAKE & KOMUSUBI
Last tournament ALL of the lower sanyaku rikishi had terrible records, and so NONE of them are back in these ranks this time. At sekiwake we have Kotoyuki, who surprised everyone by putting in a very strong performance at M1 in March, and Ikioi who held a share of the lead into the second week in Osaka. The komusubi are Brazilian rikishi Kaisei and Okinoumi.

Honestly, I’m not sure what to expect from this group, particularly Kotoyuki. He’s still a pretty young rikishi (only 24) and this is his first time ever being ranked in sanyaku. He seems brash and full of confidence, and trains at the same stable with Kotoshogiku, so it’s entirely possible he knows what he’s in for at this level. On the other hand, his inexperience could leave him vulnerable at one of the toughest spots on the banzuke. The big knock against the other three is that they are inconsistent and have tendencies to lose matches they ought to win. If they want to hold on to these high rankings, they’re going to have to dominate all their lower-ranked opponents, because fully HALF of their schedule will be against yokozuna and ozeki.

UPPER MAEGASHIRA (M1–M5)
Almost everyone at this level in May is someone that in the last half year has been ranked in sanyaku—rikishi like Myogiryu (M1), Ichinojo (M2), Aminishiki (M3), Yoshikaze (M4), Tochinoshin (M4), Tochiozan (M5), and Takayasu (M5). In other words, they are all contenders IF they bring their A-game. However, if they ALL perform to the best of their abilities, that will probably mean that they’ll be having incredibly difficult, hard fought schedules. It seems likely that we’ll see a lot of really good sumo from this group, but that many of them will be scrambling to make kachikoshi.

MIDDLE MAEGASHIRA (M6–10)
As so often happens, this is a difficult section to call. It’s filled with a mix of high-level rikishi who did badly in March, and low-level rikishi who did pretty well. One stand out is Egyptian rikishi Osunaarashi who launched all the way from the Juryo Division up to M7 (which says as much about how weak the lower half of Maegashira is as it does about how strong Osunaarashi looked in Osaka). As you may remember, he’s a particular favorite of mine, though, so I’m glad to see him back up the banzuke.

LOWER MAEGASHIRA (M11–16)
There should be a lot of really high-spirited sumo in the lower ranks this tournament, as its rungs are filled with pretty good rikishi who had bad or unlucky performances in March—such at Takekaze (M12), Amuru (M12), Hidenoumi (M13), and Gagamaru (M15). Alongside them are a couple of recognizable names who are back up from Juryo—Endo (M15) and Seiro (M14)—plus one Makuuchi debut—Nishikigi (M14). And EVERYONE knows that a makekoshi [majority of losses] will likely get them demoted out of the top division.

OVERALL PREDICTIONS
My biggest prediction is that the Natsu Basho will have A LOT of rikishi with 6–5 and 5–6 records around the midway mark—this is going to be a real scrappy, streetfight of a tournament. With no news about how any of the upper-level rikishi are doing heath-wise, I have no real inkling as to who might win the whole shebang (except, of course, that the safest money is still on Hakuho . . . despite his unusual style of sumo in Osaka, he remains clearly the #1 rikishi and on any given day I’d predict that he would beat ANYONE you paired him against). But maybe we’ll find out more over the coming couple of weeks.

The Natsu Basho begins on May 8th (two Sundays from now) and I’ll do my best to provide lots of links to videos and pictures, as well as my own commentary throughout the tournament.

Penguins—Why Should Facebook Have All The Fun?

It’s sometimes a struggle to keep a balance between postings here on my blog with the quicker, more convenient, and more immediately connected social media like Facebook and Twitter. But I DO want this site to be the one must-go place that folks who are interested in what I’m working on, so I’ve GOT to make a better effort to at least keep current with the little snippets that I dash off on those other sites.

To that end, here are a couple of quick pics from one of my current projects—a privately commissioned children’s book that I’ve been referring to as “Project: Penguin.” After a whole bunch of different delays (almost entirely of my own making), I’m at the stage where the drawings are getting inked and finally starting to look like REAL artwork. 

There’s a lot I can’t show from this project, mainly because it’s too much of a spoiler for what the story is REALLY about. But a few shots of penguins really don’t tell anymore than the codename already did . . . there are penguins in this book.

Hopefully, when all is said and done I’ll be able to show and tell you much more about this project. But that will remain entirely up to my clients.

MANGA: Ultraman vol. 4

Today I was working on rewriting volume 7 of the Ultraman manga . . . and as fate would have it, the postman delivered my contributor’s copy of volume 4 (due to hit stores on May 17). You’re gonna love it … it’s deeeeeeelicious!!!

JAPANESE TV ADS: Tuna Fish Tryouts

Time for another batch of bizarre commercials fresh off the Japanese airwaves. This collection includes:

• The yakisoba loving Japanese version of Flash Gordon
• Another look at the post-apocalyptic Soda World
• What looks like a movie based on Teenagers from Outer Space RPG
• Parenting tips: How to make your baby like your gigantic dog
• And tuna fish tryouts.

JAPANESE TV ADS: Extreme Legendary Folklore Badminton

Sumo is over . . . and I’m in the deadline cave . . . but there’s still time for some crazy commercials fresh off the Internet from Japan. This volume contains:

• A samurai haircut just for drinking Calpis
• A magical egg-hat
• A soda commercial that I want to turn into a post-apocalyptic RPG campaign
• Extreme legendary folklore badminton
• The cloud-walking return of “Premium Boss” Tommy Lee Jones (with music by Eric Clapton)
• And the laser-eyed princess you see in the image below

SUMO: Haru Basho 2016 Wrap-Up

Well, that was certainly an interesting tournament that ended . . . kind of anticlimactically, I think. Oh it was great to see Hakuho get his 36th yusho [tournament championship], and the race for the title was exciting and filled with unexpected turns. But that final match between Hakuho and Harumafuji was just stunningly fast . . . and Hakuho pulled that “touch your forehead” maneuver again (the same one he used against Tochiozan in January). In fact, there’s a great photo of it as part of a Japan Times article talking about how the Yokozuna Deliberation Council gave Hakuho mixed-grades for his performance in Osaka.

Rather than slapping Harumafuji at the tachi-ai, Hakuho reached out and touched his forehead, causing his opponent to blink . . . and then Hakuho simply stepped to the side and let Harumafuji charge himself out of the ring and off the dohyo. It’s crazily effective, and not at all illegal . . . but it is kind of cheesey, particularly for someone who was performing such brutally powerful sumo over the previous three days. Hakuho himself pretty much admitted that in his post-victory interview saying that “I didn’t plan to decide the tournament with that kind of a henka—that was inexcusable.”

In point of fact, the semi-reprimands that the Yokozuna Council gave Hakuho were for being too rough—for giving too many dameoshi [extra shove after a match is done], particularly one that sent Yoshikaze careening into a ringside judge and breaking the judge’s leg. So it’s tough for them to also reprimand him for being too sly and using too many “trick maneuvers.”

The take away is that at this stage of his career you just never know what Hakuho is going to do. He can still charge in and overpower just about anyone in the ring, and he also has a collection of unusual tactics that rivals that of “wily veteran” Aminishiki. And you’ve got to come to every bout against him ready for ANY of those possibilities, giving him an EXTRA edge. Which is probably the whole point, from Hakuho’s perspective.

Other Observations
There were a couple of other odd developments toward the end of the basho that no one seemed to be talking about. Did anyone else notice that in his Day 15 loss to Kisenosato, Goeido seemed to be hopping on one leg? Despite this being the match that could put him in line for a yusho playoff, Goeido didn’t even putting his right foot down on the ground while trying to stave off Kisenosato’s charge. I rewatched the match several times and it just seemed really weird to me. I’m afraid that Goeido may have done himself (or his ankle) some bad turn and just couldn’t put any weight on the leg . . . but unless he or his oyakata [stable master] volunteers the info, I guess that will just have to be my supposition.

Also, did anyone else notice that in the final three days Tochiozan went back to his “scoot forward at the tachi-ai” maneuver? If you go back and look at videos of Tochiozan’s matches over the course of the last year, you’ll see that in early 2015 he had a habit of timing his tachi-ai by rocking back and forth and scooting forward in a motion similar to what yokozuna do in their dohyo-iri [ring entering ceremony]. But that gave an advantage to his opponents, who could time his rhythm and use that knowledge against him. So in recent tournaments he stopped doing that. Even early in this basho he wasn’t using that maneuver. But towards the end, when he only had two wins and was already makekoshi [majority of losses], he seemed to start using it again.

Winners & Losers
Looking at the banzuke [ranking sheet] overall, there was a dead even split with half of the rikishi getting kachikoshi [majority of wins] and half getting makekoshi. But there were unusual clusters of winners and losers on the board.

Unsurprisingly, all of the yokozuna and ozeki wound up with winning records, most of them in double-digits. But all four of the sekiwake and komusubi had dismal records, the BEST of which was Takarafuji’s 6–9 (the other three managed only 11 wins between them). And only three of the ten rikishi ranked M1–M5 got kachikoshi . . . so we should be seeing a huge shake-up at the top of the banzuke for May’s Natsu Basho.

There also was a cluster of losing records down at the bottom of the banzuke, so it seems likely that we’ll see at least three Juryo rikishi getting bumped up to the Makuuchi division in May, led by Egyptian rikishi Osunaarashi. He’ll probably be joined by another returning rikishi, Seiro, and one who would be making his Makuuchi debut, Nishikigi.

Special Prize
At the end of each tournament, there are three sansho [special prizes] that Sumo Association can hand out to Maegashira-ranked rikishi to honor particularly good performances. It is not, however, a requirement that any of these be given out, and it says a lot about this tournament that only one was.

M1 Kotoyuki was awarded the shukun-sho [outstanding performance] prize, the most difficult of the prizes to get, and the one most often left unawarded. It is given to a rank-and-file rikishi who did particularly well against yokozuna, ozeki, and other rikishi who were vying for the yusho. In this case, Kotoyuki beat Harumafuji, Goeido, Terunofuji, Myogiru, and Ikioi, all of whom were on the leaderboard well into Week 2.

There was a possibility of a second prize this basho. As it sometimes does, the Sumo Association announced Sunday morning that if Ikioi won his match that day (against Kotoyuki) he would be awarded the kanto-sho (fighting spirit) prize. But since Ikioi lost the bout, he got nothing.

Also unawarded was the kin-sho (technique) prize . . . for obvious reasons.

What’s Next?
Now we go into the relatively quiet period between bashos. Although I have a couple of sumo-related posts lined up, there shouldn’t be much until the last week of April when the banzuke for the Natsu Basho is announced.

In the meanwhile, let’s hope that the injured rikishi (like Terunofuji and Harumafuji) can rest up and build their strength back to full. It’d be nice to have a basho where everyone was running a close to top speed.

The biggest question for next basho is who will the sekiwake and komusubi be, since I think all four of the current ones are sure to be booted out of sanyaku . . . but there aren’t a ton of rikishi with great records knocking on the door to get in. I predict that Kotoyuki will get the big bump to be sekiwake east, and Okinoumi will be sekiwake west. Meanwhile, Ikioi will jump from M4 to komusubi east, and Myogiryu will will leap all the way from M6 up to komusubi west. Of course, that may just set us up for ANOTHER basho where the sanyaku rikishi all end up makekoshi . . . or maybe these four actually ARE ready for the big time.

Like so many other questions, we’ll just have to wait for them to be answered on the dohyo in May. Hope to see you all back here then!

SUMO: Haru Basho 2016 Senshuraku [Final Day] (Day 15)

Hello, everyone! It’s senshuraku [the final day] . . . Day 15 of the Haru Basho in Osaka, and the yusho [tournament championship] won’t be decided until today’s final match—what more can you ask for? It’s been a thrilling tournament, and there’s still room left for twists and turns, even if the odds don’t favor such things. Because, c’mon, with yokozuna Hakuho alone atop the leaderboard, and his match today being against the injured yokozuna Harumafuji, the smart money is on Hakuho walking away with his 36th yusho. But that’s the thing about sumo . . . you never can tell exactly what will happen on any given day!

Right now there are two rikishi one win behind Hakuho—ozeki Kisenosato and ozeki Goeido—but they go head to head today . . . so only the winner of that match will remain in the hunt and eligible for a playoff should Hakuho fall. And all across the banzuke [ranking sheet] there are rikishi who have 7–7 records and are still trying to secure a kachikoshi [majority of wins], and other who are either trying bolster their winning record in hopes of a bigger promotion in May, or trying to cushion their makekoshi [majority of losses] in hopes of mitigating the size of their demotion. Sumo is unkind in that way, there is practically no way to do “good enough” to just hold your ground in the rankings . . . you’re either going up or you’re going down.

One final note before getting to today’s matches. If you’ve been enjoying these sumo updates, please consider putting a dollar or two into the online tip jars for the YouTubers whose channels allow me to follow the daily action and share my passion for the sport with you. Kintamayama posts the daily round-up videos I use in these updates, and also provides a daily email that translates some of the locker room quotes that the rikishi give at the end of each day (tip jar). Jason Harris posts full-length videos of most days’ feature matches, including his own commentary and a sampling of NHK’s English-language broadcast (tip jar). Seriously, I couldn’t provide this coverage if not for them.

M2 Okinioumi (7–7) vs. M3 Aminishiki (7–7)—Sometimes the Kyokai [Sumo Association] is a little cruel . . . like pitting two 7–7 rikishi against each other on senshuraku. In this case one of those men is Okinoumi—who started off the basho slowly with a 2–7 record, but has managed to win his last five straight matches to get even. It will all be for naught, though, if he can’t get win number eight today. On the other side of the dohyo is the veteran Aminishiki—who has been streaky throughout the basho, winning three in a row, then losing five in a row. There is no requirement to be consistent, though. If he can put this final match in the “W” column then he’ll get a promotion. Whoeve wins will likely find himself with a sanyaku rank next tournament. The loser will likely end up around M5. (You can see this match at 7:35 on the video.)

M1 Kotoyuki (11–3) vs. M4 Ikioi (10–3)—Kotoyuki has had an incredible tournament at his career high ranking. He’s getting a special prize for his efforts, and almost certainly going to be bumped up to sekiwake next basho (if only because both of the current sekiwake had TERRIBLE tournaments and will be forced to vacate that ranking). Meanwhile, Ikioi has also had a terrific tournament, and the Kyokai has said that if he can beat Kotoyuki today, he will get a special prize as well. (9:05)

Ozeki Goeido (12–2) vs. ozeki Kisenosato (12–2)—This match is to decide who will be the runner-up OR, if Hakuho loses, who will face him in a playoff. Both men have had their best tournament in years. Kisenosato has avoided the middle-of-the-tournament losses that have plagued him recently, keeping his composure and focus throughout the basho, and getting himself immediately back on track after being knocked off the top of the leaderboard. Meanwhile, Goeido s having the best tournament of his career, and certainly the best one since he got promoted to his current rank. This should be a hard-fought match, and perhaps the most competitive one of the day—both rikishi seem to be at the top of their games and there is such a tremendous prize at stake! (12:00)

Yokozuna Harumafuji (10–4) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (13–1)—The final match of the day feature Hakuho against Harumafuji, as it has done for most of the tournaments in the past few years. They’ve fought 53 times in the past, with Hakuho having won two-thirds of the bouts. Unfortunately, today Harumafuji clearly has something wrong with his right leg, which will probably keep this from being as competitive as their matches usually are. Given how powerful Hakuho has looked in his wins over the past few days, I don’t know that there’s much Harumafuji can do (given his condition) to win this in a straight-up fight. But he’s a tenacious, fast, and clever yokozuna, so there’s no telling what tricks he might pull out of his bag. 12:55)

SUMO BONUS: Osunaarashi in Juryo (Days 11–15)

As the Haru Basho rolls to a close, let’s look in on how Osunaarashi is doing down in the Juryo division. As you may remember, he’s coming back after missing a tournament because of injury and being demoted down to the number one spot atop the Juryo division. In the first ten days of the basho, Osunaarashi looked fantastic—he achieved his kachikoshi [majority of wins] and was leading the race for the Juryo yusho [tournament championship) with a 9–1 record.

DAY 11: This bout was against J10 Chiyoo, a rikishi who has bounced around Juryo but has yet to break through into Makuuchi.

Day 12: Next up was a match against Ishiura, who at J8 is fighting at the highest rank he’s yet achieved, and was looking more than a bit banged up at the start of the match.

Day 13: By the time this match started, we knew that Osunaarashi’s closest competitor—J2 Nishigiki—had suffered his fourth loss. So if the Egyptian rikishi won this match against J7 Chiyonokuni, he would be guaranteed to win the Juryo yusho.

Day 14: Securing the Juryo yusho was a nice feather in his cap, but Osunaarashi’s real goal remained getting more wins so that he could make as big a leap up the banzuke as possible. Today that meant facing off against J9 Tsurugisho.

Day 15: As a reward for already securing the Juryo yusho, Osunaarashi got to go up to the Makuuchi division for his final match of the basho. His opponent was M14 Daishomaru who record was 7–7. Basically this was a test for both rikishi. It was a chance for Osunaarashi to show that he was worthy of a promotion (that he’s already all but certain to get) by beating a Maegashira opponent, and a chance for Daishomaru to prove that he deserves to stay in the top division by crushing the hopes of this Juryo upstart.

Okay, that last match could have gone better. It looked like Osunaarashi wasn’t prepared for Daishomaru to put up a fight (which is kind of ridiculous, since the man’s kachikoshi was on the line)  . . . but overall it was a TERRIFIC tournament for Osunaarashi. He finished with a 13–2 record, won the Juryo yusho for the first time, and secured a promotion back up to the Makuuchi division for May’s Natsu Basho [Summer Tournament] in Tokyo.

I can only guess that over the next 6 weeks or so he’ll get stronger and sharpen his skills even more. Back before his injuries, Osunaarashi was looking like a rikishi that was headed for a sanyaku promotion (his career best ranking is M1). I see no reason why he can’t be back in that position again later this year if he stays healthy.

Omedetou [contratulations], Osunaarashi, on a GREAT Haru Basho!

SUMO: Haru Basho 2016 (Day 14)

As we enter the final weekend of the Haru Basho, yokozuna Hakuho is alone on top of the leaderboard with a 12–1 record. After his surprise loss on Day 1 he’s looked solid and seems to be stronger here on Day 14 than he was during Week 1. That could have been gamesmanship on his part, a growing comfort as he felt more certain that his injuries were fully healed, or just a sense of confidence that comes with having been in this position so many times before. Whatever the reason, his dominant wins over ozeki and yokozuna opponents durning the last three days make it seem like he’s really going to be difficult to derail in this charge for his 36th yusho [tournament championship]. Today Hakuho faces ozeki Kotoshogiku—the winner of January’s Hatsu Basho—and tomorrow he’ll wrap up against yokozuna Harumafuji—who is nursing an injured thigh.

One win behind Hakuho are ozeki Kisenosato and ozeki Goeido, just hoping that the yokozuna will slip up in one of his final matches. Yesterday Kisenosato shook off his two-day slide by beating M3 Aoiyama, while Goeido had his way with injured ozeki Terunofuji. Both of these rikishi are still looking quite powerful, but they need some help in order to get back into the race. Today Goeido faces M4 Ikioi, while Kisenosato will take on Terunofuji. Of course, even if they both win, these two will have to fight each other on Sunday . . . so even if Hakuho does slip, only one of them will have a chance to face him to a playoff.

Mathematically there are, of course, other possibilities. But given how strong these top three are looking, they’re hardly worth discussing.

M8 Takanoiwa (7–6) vs. M12 Tokushoryu (6–7)—Two journeyman rikishi engaged in a real “desperation sumo” match. Takanoiwa trying for one more win to get his kachikoshi [majority of wins] and Tokuhsoryu needing to win out in order to avoid his makekoshi [majority of losses]. This may not be the best sumo you’ll see today, but the rikishi do show an awful lot of heart! (You can see this match at 2:30 on the video.)

Ozeki Goeido (11–2) vs. M4 Ikioi (10–3)—Two rikishi who are both performing terrifically this basho. This is one match where you kinda wish both could win . . . but that’s not sumo. You have to give the edge to Goeido because he’s an ozeki, he’s fighting to stay in the yusho race, and he’s beaten Ikioi nine out of the ten times they’ve previously met. But don’t count the young guy out. He’s shown a lot of skill and poise, and he just might have the makings of a future ozeki. (10:50)

Ozeki Terunofuji (8–6) vs. ozeki Kisenosato (11–2)—On the surface of it, this looks like a match that should clearly be won by Kisenosato. He’s still in the yusho hunt and he NEEDS this win to stay alive. Meanwhile Terunofuji is injured, has already made his kachikoshi, and has nothing else to fight for . . . except pride. And for ozeki, that’s a lot. Plus, Kisenosato has a history of having mental lapses in matches when he most needs to focus and concentrate. I still think Kisenosato will win—I just don’t take it as a foregone conclusion. (11:20)

Ozeki Kotoshogiku (8–6) vs. yokozuna Hakuho (12–1)—Hakuho is on a roll, and Kotoshogiku looks like he’s just rolling over. The rikishi with the fire in his eyes seems to have disappeared completely, as evidenced by his lackluster loss yesterday to clearly injured yokozuna Harumafuji. Hopes of a second yusho and possible yokozuna promotion have melted into a poor showing where the ozeki is barely squeaking out a kachikoshi. Meanwhile, Hakuho seems bound and determined to not let a fourth basho go by without him hoisting the Emperor’s Cup. If the yokozuna wins today, even a loss tomorrow will still give him a spot in a potential playoff. (13:00)